Premier Jason Kenney is urging Albertans who have bought into conspiracy theories about COVID-19 being a hoax or part of a global effort to impose some kind of socialist order upon the world to "wake up and smell the coffee" and look at the actual data.
"This is not a conspiracy," the premier said during a live video stream on Facebook, while holding up a printout of a chart depicting the number of COVID-19 patients in Alberta hospitals. "This is not a figment of my imagination. This is not invented by Klaus Schwab."
Kenney referred repeatedly to Schwab in a self-described "rant" on Tuesday evening against the people who promote pandemic-related conspiracy theories on social media. It came during a Facebook Live question-and-answer session he hosted alongside Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
Schwab is a German engineer and economist who founded the World Economic Forum, which hosts a high-profile gathering of world leaders, economists, celebrities and businesspeople each year in Davos, Switzerland. He has also been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories online.
The premier's comments came in response to a viewer who asked: "Are you working with Trudeau and Klaus Schwab on 'The Great Reset?' "
Kenney at first laughed at the question, but then appeared to get increasingly frustrated as he delivered a nearly nine-minute answer.
"When you're sitting in my chair, you don't have the luxury of indulging in all of this denialism, of trying to blame some globalist conspiracy," the premier said.
"I'm sorry to go on a rant … but when you're implying that our [COVID-19] response is because some socialist in Switzerland told me that he wanted me to shut down businesses in Alberta, folks, give your heads a shake. And please, deal with reality."
What is 'The Great Reset?'
"The Great Reset" is an idea proposed by Schwab for a broad set of policy reforms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic "to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions."
The idea has been "interpreted as sinister, first by fringe conspiracy theory groups on social media, and then by prominent conservative commentators — prompting tens of thousands of interactions across Facebook and Twitter," according to a BBC reality check on numerous COVID-19-related conspiracy theories around the world.
Kenney has criticized Schwab's proposal in the past, including in a December Facebook video in which he described The Great Reset as "a grab bag of left-wing ideas for less freedom and more government" and the Davos forum as "the biggest gathering of global hypocrites in history."
"The so-called Great Reset is not a conspiracy theory," Kenney said in that video. "It is an actual set of concrete proposals being advocated by some very influential people."
But in Tuesday's Facebook video, Kenney said it defies logic to suggest the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax designed to implement the ideas proposed by Schwab or any other high-profile person that he's heard linked to baseless conspiracy theories on social media that now include him, as the premier of Alberta.
"If I go on Facebook right now, there's somebody who's going to say Bill Gates, George Soros, Klaus Schwab, Justin Trudeau — pick your imaginary villain — that I'm in cahoots with to do this," Kenney said.
"Folks, that's not what this is about."
Kenney defends Alberta measures
Kenney acknowledged that many Albertans are chafing under the weight of ongoing public health restrictions but defended his government's decision to impose the new measures in November and December.
Had the government not acted, he said, the exponential growth in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths would have continued, plunging the province into a horrific situation "where we're taking body bags out of tent hospitals set up in McMahon Stadium in the middle of February."
"So, to those of you who think this is all about some cockamamie, globalist conspiracy, let me be blunt with you, folks: You have the luxury of circulating these conspiracy theories — and hey, everyone needs a hobby — so go for it," Kenney said.
"But as the premier of Alberta, I've got to be worried about whether or not we have the capacity to manage those patients piling up in our hospitals and the fatalities that result."
'Strong feelings' about the pandemic response
Dr. Hinshaw reiterated the seriousness of the ongoing COVID-19 situation at her daily address to Albertans on Wednesday.
"I know that many Albertans have strong feelings about how restrictions are being eased, with some feeling that we are moving too slowly and others who think we are going too fast," Hinshaw said.
"Both of these perspectives are understandable, and, as I have often said, there is no one right way to navigate this pandemic. However, I would like to put our current situation in context to help explain why we are not approaching relaunch like we did in the spring, and instead are pursuing a more cautious approach."
She noted Albertans have made "remarkable progress" in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus over the past two months, but that active caseloads and hospitalizations remain high and will take some time to come down further.
"When we started our first relaunch on May 14, there were 57 people in hospital — a tenth of the total that we have today," she said.
"It's also important to remember that when we relaunched in the spring, there were less than 1,000 active cases in the community, meaning that there are almost seven times the active cases today that there were at that time."
In general, she said, the province finds itself in "a very different place than we were at in May."
"That is why we are not relaxing measures for a large number of sectors all at once, like we did in the spring," Hinshaw said.
"It's important that we take a slow, phased approach to ensure we aren't doing too much too fast, especially as we learn more about the new variants of COVID-19 and work to prevent their spread in Alberta."
"This approach should limit the need to jump back and forth between easing and tightening of restrictions," she said, "which I know is challenging for everyone, especially those whose businesses and paycheques are affected."